Love in The Victorian Years, 1837-1901

Until recently, Queen Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch, holding reign for 63 years, 216 days, from June 20, 1837 to her death on January 22, 1901. During her reign, the period was known as the Victorian Era, and continued past her death until about 1912. Miss Meredith Sweetpea thinks of all the changes that Queen Victoria must have seen in her 81 years.

Dating in the Victorian Era

Dating in the 18th century was called courting, or informally, sparking, keeping company, carrying on, coming to call or cavorting. Serious courting with the intent to marry, was called a Courtship. During the courting period, women rarely had the opportunity to meet their beaus privately, at least for the upper classes a chaperone had to be on hand, usually the girl’s mother, aunt or a closer family friend.

Flirtation was a lot of fun and young men and women often met at local celebrations like the Harvest Celebration, at church or school. Popular date activities included sleigh rides in the winter months or coaching on warmer days, preceded by dinner and perhaps the theater. Couples also took walks, went berrying, attended lectures, cuddled in haylofts, danced at parties, attended church socials, and met in the girl’s family parlor with the hopes that the family would retire to another room. If a woman liked a man, it was said she “set her cap for him.”

Even though chaperones were attentive, the late 1700s and early 1800s were marked by a notable higher incidence of premarital sex than in later years. Statistic shows that about one third of New England brides were pregnant when they married. By the 1850s this statistic dropped to about 10%.

Marriage in the Victorian Era

Marriage was considered a woman’s “natural destiny,” and shame was put upon spinsterhood (although about 11% of women never married). Marriage was not the freedom women hoped for, however. Woman normally were tied to their homes and bore an average of 5-7 children.

Thoughts of marriage often filled women with anxiety. For men, however, it was a different story. They often rushed the women to marriage for the benefits of sex, pampering and maid service.

Men typically married in their mid to late twenties, the women were a few years younger. Most weddings were held at home until about the 1820s when church weddings became popular. Most weddings were held on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday due to the ministers’ heavy weekend schedules. The bride wore a gown of white for the most part and a wreath of white flowers and often orange blossoms on her head. Veils became popular from the 1840s on.

Engagement rings were not known until about the 1840s when they were presented to the man as well as the woman. Wedding rings were generally plain gold bands.

The Victorian Honeymoon

A celebration or party followed the marriage ceremony, and liquor, wine, tea or lemonade were served. White wedding cakes became known in the 1820s but were limited to the upper class weddings.

On the night of the marriage, a charivari was  customary in French Louisiana, Florida, Michigan and Canada, where friends and family “serenaded” the couple with horns, bells, whistles, pans, kettles and other noisemakers until they were invited in for refreshments and entertainment.

Honeymoons became popular after the 1820s and were often called bridal tours, wedding tours or nuptial journeys. Popular honeymoon locations included New York City, Niagara Falls, the Green Mountains and Cincinnati. They were accompanied by friends or family until about the 1860s when it became popular to honeymoon alone.

Few Victorian women openly admitted to enjoying sex. The “experts” of the day claimed it was impossible for women to derive much physical pleasure, and if she did, she was labeled “abnormal.”

–excerpted from The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon.

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